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DARREL KOEHLER: Tomatoes are busting out

The tomato crop is shaping up to one of the best in years - thanks to warm, dry weather. In recent years, gardeners have had to battle tomato diseases, brought on by cool, damp conditions. But this year, rains have been relatively infrequent and ...

The tomato crop is shaping up to one of the best in years - thanks to warm, dry weather. In recent years, gardeners have had to battle tomato diseases, brought on by cool, damp conditions. But this year, rains have been relatively infrequent and there has been lots of sun - perfect conditions for keeping early and late blight at bay.

When it comes to battling blight, prevention is easier than finding a cure. Good housekeeping, especially the removal of diseased foliage and fruit in autumn, along with rotation can go a long way in reducing or even eliminating blight

Early blight (Alternaria) will infect tomato plants at all stages of growth. However, late blight (Septoria) usually is more evident when the tomato plants begin to set fruit. In general, symptoms are about the same. The lower leaves develop dark spots, turn yellow and then dry up and die. The disease begins on the lower leaves and then climbs the plant like a ladder.

To lessen the danger of blight, place mulch around the base of your tomato plants. This keeps the spores from splashing up from the soil and onto the foliage. Good mulches include lawn clippings, straw or compost. Water at the base of the plants and in the morning to lessen splashing and the amount of time the leaves are wet. Avoid working with tomatoes when the foliage is wet to prevent spreading blight. Remove all spotted, yellow leaves as a precaution.

In severe case, you may need to apply a fungicide. Daconil, Mancozeb and Maneb are among the products on the market. Check with the store when making your purchase to ensure the product is safe. Follow label directions. Fungicide may have to be applied every 7 to 10 days when the weather is wet and warm. You have to start treatment early, not when blight is already causing major damage. Application of fungicide may be needed every 7-10 days when it is wet and warm.

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Other methods to combat blight include purchasing disease-free seed or inspecting purchased plants for leaf spot before transplanting into the garden. Although there are a few tomato varieties that are listed as tolerant of early blight, there are no tomato varieties said to be resistant to late blight..

When planting, space the plants far enough apart to promote good air circulating and use cages or stakes to keep the foliage off the soil.

Weird tomatoes

Last spring, you probably saw the advertisements for growing tomatoes upside down -- the so-called Topsy Turvy tomato grower. The ads claimed the Topsy Turvy was the new and better way to grow tomatoes that produce more fruit and are easier to grow (no staking or caging required), all in a small space. A writer for the Minneapolis Star Tribune is conducting an experiment to see if the claims are true.

She wrote that early in the season the Topsy Turvy beat the pants off the Early Girl tomato planted the regular way. But since the weather has weather has warmed, the tomato planted the regular way is catching up. There also has been some leaf yellowing on the Topsy Turvy tomato. Stay tuned as we watch the progress in this strange tomato race.

Garden tour

Today is the final day for the 25th annual Grand Forks Horticulture Society Tour. The two-day event began Saturday. A total of six of some of the best gardens in the region will be included in the tour: three in Grand Forks, two in East Grand Forks and one in Tabor, Minn. Hours for the tour today are from noon to 4 p.m.

Participants can taste homemade lavender cookies or other treats or shop the plant sale or gardener's garage sale. There also will be entertainment and possibly a plant doctor on duty.

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Tickets are $10 each and available either at the Myra Museum, 2405 Belmont Road, ( site of both sales) or the residence of Irene and Ray Larson, 35371 130th St. N.W., Tabor, Minn. Maps can be obtained at either site to direct you to the gardens. Proceeds go to enhancing area parks and providing community education programs. You can call the Myra at (701) 775-2216 or go to gfhort@usa.net for additional information.

Garden class

Master Gardeners learn about flowers, insects, plant diseases, weed control, trees and shrubs, safe pesticide use, growing fruits, vegetables, herbs, turf grass, plant propagation, pruning, house plants and many other topics in a nearly two-month long course.

To register for the next session, gardeners have two options. You can register as a Master Gardener volunteer, which includes a $100 fee and includes a manual and all the handouts. After the 48-hour volunteer requirement, you receive a Master Gardener certificate. The second or non-volunteer option includes a $200 registration fee, all materials, no volunteer requirement and no master gardener certification. Web streaming is an additional means of participating for those unable to attend on Friday mornings.

Deadline for registration is Aug. 3. Call (701) 780-8229 for information.

Fire blight check

Early dampness and cool temperatures has resulted in fire blight turning up in apple trees. The fungal disease is difficult to control although there are sprays. Some apple varieties, such as Haralson, have some resistance to the disease. It can be detected by yellowed leaves on the smaller stems within the crown. You can reduce fire blight woes by carefully removing any diseased branches. Dip your shears in a diluted bleach liquid as you move from branch to branch to prevent spread. You may be able to prevent or delay more fire blight woes down the road.

Garden sales

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Many garden supply outlets have trees, shrubs, perennial flowers and flowering shrubs on sale as they clean out the inventory from a less than ideal season. Normally, these plants are in containers. You will want to get them planted soon so they will get established before the onset of cold weather and winter. You may have to apply a little extra tender loving care if the dry conditions persist into August. This is an excellent way to expand your garden at minimal cost.

Watering tip

If you have newly planted trees and shrubs, be sure and water them. Moisture has been a bit short in our immediate area since the early June rains. The same holds true for newly established lawns. Generally, lawns require an inch of rain per week. Flower beds located beneath trees also require extra water, too.

Garden progress

Gardens continue to lag a bit behind schedule from normal years. Besides some rain the past month, it is getting dry locally. For the gardeners who grow radishes, the lack of moisture is evident. Radishes have done poorly. They are either hot or woody, or they have simply flowered and didn't develop. For those who planted peas, you should be enjoying a harvest soon. Others may have had rabbits complete the harvest early. Like most years, this year is another of challenge for gardeners in the region.

Koehler is the Herald's garden columnist. His column is published every Sunday in this section during the growing season. Send garden questions to him in care of the Grand Forks Herald, Box 6008, Grand Forks ND 58206-6008. Tune in the weekly gardening show airing at 4:10 p.m. Thursdays on KNOX Radio 1310 (AM).

Related Topics: HOME AND GARDEN
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